David MALANGI DAYMIRRINGU | Manharrngu mortuary rites

 
MALANGI DAYMIRRINGU, David
Australia 1927 – 1999
Manharrngu mortuary rites
central figure with cross-hatching on torso, four black figures surrounding c.1964
Bark Painting
natural pigments on eucalyptus bark
108.0 (h) x 65.5 (w) cm
Purchased 2002 National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2002.325
© David Malangi. Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia
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Gurrmirringu was the ‘first man’ (the Ancestral forefather). His death gave occasion for the first mortuary rites of the Manharrngu people.

The funeral of Gurrmirringu is the predominant feature of many of Malangi’s paintings associated with the Mulanga area, remaining a key subject throughout his painting career. The depiction of this story on bark was reproduced on the reverse of the Australian one dollar note.

Barks depicting the mortuary scene include a number of key narrative elements, which constitute a template for the Gurrmirringu or dollar note story as it is sometimes known.

A vertical figure with painted torso, arms extended to the elbows and legs outstretched is the body of the deceased Gurrmirringu being ceremonially prepared for burial. The body is surrounded by song men performing Manharrngu ceremonial song cycles to ensure the safe arrival of the spirit at its final resting place. They hold clap sticks and yidaki [didjeridu] to accompany the singing and are seen sitting, their legs tucked up underneath their body (sometimes represented as half figures with no legs).

These ceremonial participants are differentiated from the deceased Gurrmirringu by their sitting posture and by their plain black bodies void of body paint. The white lines within the frame of the figures articulate the three-dimensional figure on the two-dimensional surface. The rärrk [crosshatching] on the central figure is ceremonial body paint.

Malangi’s format for depicting this narrative remained constant with only slight variations over three decades, and always included the berry trees framing the bark, the central figure and the surrounding ceremonial participants.

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